The Santa Clauses




A Selected Bibliography on the Jolly Old Elf and the Law

The Santa Clause was not the first film to invoke the spirit of the law with regard to St. Nick.  In 1947, John Payne, Maureen O'Hara and a very young Natalie Wood starred with Edmund Gwenn in the wonderful Miracle on 34th Street in which Gwenn plays Kris Kringle, a man who is convinced he is the "real Santa Claus." The news gets out and he gets committed to Bellevue Hospital right before Christmas. In a charming series of courtroom scenes, Payne as the intrepid lawyer Fred Gayley gets him recognized as "the only Santa Claus", courtesy of the U.S. Postal Service.(1)

Other legal issues Santa has been embroiled in include a tax audit(2), workplace safety (chimney descent)(3), pro bono legal services(4), embezzlement(5), employment contracts(6), disorderly conduct,(7) and impersonation by a lawyer(8). In California Santa got a parking ticket dismissed(9) and a New Jersey man went to court to get his name changed to Santa Claus.(10)

In reality, the U.S. Government never has recognized anybody as the "real Santa Claus", although a New Jersey prosecutor has investigated the question(11). As for his constitutional position, it's, well, up in the air. In Lynch v. Donnelly(12) and later in County of Allegheny v. ACLU(13) the Supreme Court carefully considered whether the image of Santa Claus is secular or religious, when displayed on public land, and whether sponsored by public or private agencies. The consensus seems to be that Santa without obvious religious symbols (that is, without endorsement by a governmental body) accompanying him is a fair representation of the holiday season. Meeting that standard, however, can prove difficult.

For more about these decisions see the following articles.

On Lynch v. Donnelly:

    Ares, Charles E., Religious meetings in the public high school: freedom of speech or establishment of religion? 20 U. C. Davis L. Rev. 313 (1987).

    Blackburn, Gregory J., Government, the holiday season, and the establishment clause: a perspective on the issues, 20 Stetson L. Rev. 217 (Fall/Spring 1990).

    Braveman, Daan, The establishment clause and the course of religious neutrality, 45 Md. L. Rev. 352 (1986).

    Cox, Kenneth Mitchell, The Lemon test soured: the Supreme Court's new establishment clause analysis, 37 Vand. L. Rev. 1175 (1984).

    Devins, Neal, Religious symbols and the Establishment Clause, 27 J. Church & State 19 (1985).

    Loewy, Arnold H., Rethinking government neutrality towards religion under the establishment clause: the untapped potential of Justice O'Connor's insight, 64 N.C.L.Rev. 1049 (1986).

    Mirsky, Yehudah, Civic religion and the establishment clause, 95 Yale L.J. 1237 (1986).

    Myers, Richard S., The establishment clause and the nativity scenes: a reassessment of Lynch v. Donnelly, 77 Ky L.J. 61 (1988).

    Rotstein, Andrew, Good faith? Religious-secular parallelism and the Establishment Clause, 93 Colum. L. Rev. 1763 (1993).

On County of Allegheny v. A.C.L.U.:

    Blackburn, Gregory J., Government, the holiday season, and the establishment clause: a perspective on the issues, 20 Stetson L. Rev. 217 (Fall/Spring 1990).

    Feigenson, Neal R., Political standing and governmental endorsement of religion: an alternative to current establishment clause doctrine, 40 DePaul L. Rev. 53 (1990).

    Janocsko, George M., Beyond the "plastic reindeer rule": the curious case of County of Allegheny v. American Civil Liberties Union, 28 Duquesne L. Rev. 445 (1990).

    Kohler, Mark F., Of flags and menorahs: the power of individual and governmental symbolic speech, 23 Akron L. Rev. 371 (1990).

    McArtor, Keith O., A conservative struggles with Lemon: Justice Anthony M. Kennedy's dissent in Allegheny, 26 Tulsa L.J. 107 (1990).

    Rotstein, Andrew, Good faith? Religious-secular parallelism and the Establishment Clause, 93 Colum. L. Rev. 1763 (1993).

    Stewart, David O., Rules for Yule, 75 A.B.A. J. 50 (November 1989).

    Van Alstyne, William, A judicial postscript to the church-state debates of 1989: how porous the wall, how civil the state? 4 Notre Dame J. L., Ethics & Pol'y 449 (Fall/Winter 1990).

On the Establishment Clause generally since Lynch:

    Berman, Eliott M., Endorsing the Supreme Court's decision to endorse endorsement, 24 Colum. J. L. & Soc. Prob. 1 (1990).

    Dolgin, Janet L., Religious symbols and the establishment of a national "religion", 39 Mercer L. Rev. 495 (1988).

    Parish, Daniel, Private religious displays in public fora, 61 U. Chi. L. Rev. 253 (1994).

    Zarrow, Joshua D., Of crosses and creches: the Establishment Clause and publicly sponsored displays of religious symbols, 35 Am. U. L. Rev. 477 (1986).

    Zessar, Bruce M., Government participation in holiday religious displays: improving on Lynch and Allegheny, 41 DePaul L. Rev. 101 (1991).


C. Corcos
Dec. 15, 1997


1. A Pennsylvania man's claim to be Santa was examined in court. See Elizabeth M. Hengeveld, Santa Claus v. Sanity Clause, 6 Nat'l L.J. 47 (January 23, 1984).

2. Howard Zaharoff, The 1994 Santa audit, 70 Tax Notes 233 (January 8, 1996).

3. Lauren R. Boglioli and Mark L. Taff, "The Santa Claus Syndrome" entrapment in chimneys, 40 J. Forensic Sci. 499 (May 1995).

4. Daniel R. Warren, I don't believe in Santa Claus, or voluntary pro bono work, 6 Maine B.J. 38 (January 1991).

5. John O'Brien, "Santa Claus" loses city job for diverting gifts from needy: summary of

Fourth Department rulings, 198 N.Y.L.J. 3 (October 8, 1987).

6. Marie-Christine Cantu, Santa Clause wins in court, 8 Nat'l L.J. 43 (April 7, 1986).

7. Stuart M. Wise, Ill-suited for court, 8 Nat'l L.J. 35 (December 23, 1985).

8. Stuart M. Wise, Fa-la-la-la-lawyer in Phila-la-ladelphia, 9 Nat'l L.J. 43 (January 12, 1987).

9. Gail Mota, 'Tis the season to be jolly? 6 Nat'l L.J. 43 (November 14, 1983).

10. Larry Bodine, Man goes to court to change legal Claus, 3 Nat'l L.J. 35 (December 22, 1980).

11. Stuart Wise, Prosecutor: Santa lives! 9 Nat'l L.J. 67 (December 29, 1986).

12. Lynch v. Donnelly, 465 U.S. 668 (1984).

13. County of Allegheny v. ACLU, 492 U.S. 573 (1989).




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